With more than a decade of experience in jewelry making, British-Egyptian designer Adam Elwan has made a name for himself in Egypt.
His art deco-inspired work features multiple influences that span Egypt’s pharaonic as well as Islamic heritage.
It is perhaps fitting that the art deco style, famous for its borrowing of ancient Egyptian motifs, is now being championed by a modern-day Egyptian designer.
Made in sterling silver and 18-karat gold, Elwan’s pieces are a reinterpretation of ancient Egyptian and Islamic motifs and symbols — from the traditional kaf (palm), eye or horus charm, and the Egyptian lotus (his sterling silver lotus bracelet is a best seller), all the way to the exquisite arabesque pattern.
Hand-made by Cairo’s veteran craftsmen, Elwan’s pieces are typically inlaid with different materials, including mother of pearl, labradorite, abalone, and semi-precious stones, which together give his pieces a timeless uniqueness.
A graduate of Le Arti Orafe jewelry design school in Florence, Italy, Elwan returned to Egypt shortly after concluding his studies in 2009 where he spent the next couple of years acquainting himself with Cairo’s traditional artisan quarter, Khan Al-Khalili, while at the same time producing jewelry.
He said: “I decided to immerse myself in the Khan and get used to the atmosphere and to working with people there. I was in the Khan every single day pretty much,” he told Arab News.
A couple of years and a few bazaars later, Elwan set up his first shop, where he currently collaborates with some of old Cairo’s most experienced silversmiths and stone-setters.
“Having studied it (jewelry making), I recognized how time-consuming, complex, and difficult any art form is, so I appreciated the hard work that went into doing these things,” he said.
From earrings inlaid with mother of pearl and art deco-inspired cuffs ornamented with abalone and semi-precious stones, through to 18-karat gold eye charm pendants and arabesque sterling silver cufflinks, Elwan’s pieces combine traditional jewelry making techniques with the modern methods he learned in Florence.
He admires art nouveau as well as angles and geometric patterns, but while his jewelry features traditional designs and motifs, Elwan’s work is anything but traditional.
One way he experiments with his work is through employing inlaid stones and different kinds of material to make traditional designs “a little fresher.”
He said: “This makes the designs fun and different especially that I’m using real stones and not enamel. I always believe using natural materials gives the piece you are designing a soul. I also like to introduce a bit of color.”
Following a decade spent designing and producing jewelry, Elwan has learnt that the secret to keeping a jewelry business alive and kicking is robust quality control.
“At the end of the day, it’s the finishing that matters. It’s making sure there are no imperfections because unfortunately we do see flaws in a lot of the jewelry work that’s being made.
“And it’s mainly because the designers who are wanting this work made for them study short courses then start designing right away. They draw quick sketches without including any measurements and ask the silversmith to follow the design as it is,” he added.
Elwan hopes to be able to build an international brand in the future, but not at the expense of the quality that he is able to maintain by being in the Khan.
“They say that starting something is the hard part. Absolutely not. Maintaining something is the hard part. Maybe hard isn’t the right word to use here because hard means it’s not necessarily enjoyable. It’s challenging. Challenging means it’s fun,” he said.